April 14. 2024. 7:18

The Daily

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Teachers face bureaucracy, extra training when relocating within EU

Education professionals face considerable bureaucratic hurdles and mandatory additional training to get their domestic qualifications recognised if they want to work in another member state, barriers that are worsening the EU’s skills shortage.

Debora Sinatra, a 32-year-old Italian, has been teaching autistic middle school students in Vienna for four years.

She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in languages in Italy and additional credits in didactics and special education language pedagogy before landing a one-year teaching assistant job in the Austrian capital through the Italian Ministry of Education. When the year was over, she decided to stay.

“I would never go back to Italy,” she told EURACTIV, explaining that Austria offered a higher salary and more job security for teachers than Italy.

But getting her job required a complicated recognition process for her qualifications, including costly certified translations of university documents.

“Without recognition, I would have been able to teach, but instead of being paid 100%, I would have received around 20% less,” she said.

She managed to get her qualifications recognised rather quickly, but she was told she could only teach middle school students, while her studies in Italy would have eventually allowed her to teach in high school.

Yet, Sinatra said she “was lucky” as many other teachers going through the same process eventually had to go back to their country as their studies were not considered sufficient.

“It’s not the end of the world,” she said but added that her goal had always been to teach in high school and that she started a six-year study programme in Vienna to be able to do so, for which only some credits from her previous studies have been recognised.

A European problem

According to EU law, all European citizens can apply for jobs in other EU countries. The 2005 directive on recognising professional qualifications harmonises procedures across the Union. However, the regulation does not apply to conditions regulating the teaching profession.

As education matters fall under the competences of member states, decisions concerning the qualifications needed to teach, as well as the subjects that can be taught and at which level of education, depend on national or regional governments.

Sometimes, qualifications and experiences obtained in one country are not fully recognised in another.

When she moved to teach in France in 2012, Maria Alexandra Hernandez saw her five years of studies in Portugal recognised as a ‘licence’, which in France is obtained in three years. The internship she did as part of her studies was not recognised.

“It’s frustrating that the internship, my work, was not recognised in France,” Hernandez, who teaches Spanish in a vocational high school in Ploërmel, told EURACTIV.

After working for three years as a contract teacher, she passed the national examination needed to work as ‘titular teacher’, or a teacher with a permanent contract, in a private school.

“There are many teaching opportunities in France, but it’s very hard to become a titular teacher,” she said.

Other countries require teachers qualified in another member state to pass specific courses on certain subjects or obtain credits in pedagogy. Requirements can also vary depending on the level of education. Depending on the country, early education teachers might need to obtain a degree or carry out professional training.

“It’s a completely different level of qualification, and that can be a barrier to have the qualifications accepted [in another country],” said Susan Flocken, director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).

“In practical terms, the reality is that there’s a lot of bureaucracy in the system,” she told EURACTIV, adding that “it’s there to ensure the quality of education”.

According to Sinatra, however, this bureaucratic process can discourage teachers from getting recognition.

In some cases, the recognition process can be lengthy, according to Susanne Sivonen, researcher at the ITEM research institute, who is looking into cross-border mobility of secondary school teachers in the Meuse-Rhine region between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

During her research, Sivonen interviewed one teacher who got recognised in two weeks, while for another, the process took eight years.

Other teachers in this region had to complete a three-year training, which she said risks discouraging mobility for professionals with years of experience.

“We also found that it often leads to a loss of income,” she added.

A European response?

Barriers to mobility can play into teaching shortages, which in the school year 2019-2020 affected 35 education systems across Europe, according to the 2021 Eurydice report on lower secondary school teachers.

According to Flocken, many governments are already looking at ways to reduce bureaucracy and facilitate recognition procedures to address teacher shortages.

In her view, however, while bringing down the bureaucracy around recognising qualifications would be helpful, this should not undermine the quality of education and training.

“Education needs to be adapted to the local context,” Flocken said, adding that “the EU is already doing a lot to at least have a better understanding of how school systems across Europe work.”

According to Sivonen, European harmonisation “is not realistic” while common training or exchanges could help bridge differences in cross-border regional markets.

“It is also important that the authorities [in charge] of the recognition procedures collaborate together,” she said, adding that sharing experiences and differences can accelerate the process.

At the EU level, the Commission is currently working on ways to “complement the attractiveness, possibilities and recognition of the teaching profession”, especially through mobility projects.

A Commission official said these initiatives are expected to facilitate collaboration and smoothen recognition processes between education systems “in the long run”.

For the moment, however, initiatives to facilitate recognition for teachers depend on national or regional education systems.

According to Hernandez and Sinatra, governments should step up to ease EU mobility for trained teachers and avoid situations where their qualifications are not fully recognised.

“It’s not fair, and it’s a disincentive to teachers’ mobility,” Hernandez said.